Over 1,200 battery fires in bin lorries and waste sites across UK in last year 

  • Battery fires in bin lorries and at waste sites in the UK have reached an all time high – over 1,200 in the last year, an increase of 71% from 700 in 2022
  • 1.6bn batteries were thrown away in the last year, over 3,000 a minute – including over 1.1bn electricals containing hidden lithium-ion batteries
  • National Fire Chiefs Council says “fires involving lithium-ion batteries are a disaster waiting to happen”
  • Battery fires cause air pollution levels to spike in local areas, breaking WHO limits, affecting the health of local communities
  • Cost impact of battery waste fires could also be significant – Zurich UK has seen some insurance claims range up to £20 million

A new “Stop Battery Fires campaign” from Recycle Your Electricals and the National Fire Chiefs Council is raising awareness of the importance of electricals and battery recycling as new research shows lithium-ion batteries thrown in household rubbish bins have led to over 1,200 fires in the waste system in the last 12 months, compared to 700 in 2022. A survey of local authorities across the UK has also found that 94% of them said that fires caused by batteries in the waste stream were an increasing challenge.

With the steep rise in the number of portable electrical items containing lithium-ion batteries comes significant fire risk if they are binned instead of being recycled. With billions of electrical items now containing lithium-ion batteries, Phil Clark from the National Fire Chiefs Council said that: “Fires involving the incorrect disposal of lithium-ion batteries are a disaster waiting to happen. Fire services are seeing an increasing number of incidents, but they are preventable by correctly and carefully disposing of electricals.”

Lithium-ion batteries are hidden inside many everyday household electricals, from laptops, mobile phones and tablets, to electric toothbrushes, vapes and earpods. These batteries can become crushed or damaged in bin lorries or waste sites if they aren’t recycled and can lead to fires at waste centres and in bin lorries across the UK. When crushed or damaged lIthium-ion batteries can be dangerous to the public, waste operators and firefighters as they cause fires that are especially challenging to tackle. They can lead to explosions and chemical exposure, but they create their own oxygen, which means they can keep reigniting, prolonging incidents with smoke and fumes affecting neighbouring areas and communities for long periods of time of up to a week.

New research from Recycle Your Electricals, conducted by Opinium, shows that over 1.1bn electricals and 449. 9m loose batteries were binned in the last year. UK adults admitted that on average they’d binned at least 24 batteries, including fifteen electricals containing batteries and 9 loose batteries. This included 260m vapes. Nearly half of UK adults did not know or hadn’t heard that electrical items containing chargeable built-in batteries can catch fire if crushed or damaged.

Mark Andrews, Waste and Recycling Fires Lead for the National Fire Chiefs Council, explains what a challenge these fires present and the impact this is having on our fire services. “Fires involving waste have always been challenging but lithium-ion batteries add significantly to this by creating unknown and unpredictable risks. These fires can be explosive and spread rapidly with the risk of reignition and toxic gasses a risk to firefighters. These incidents also tie up large numbers of finite fire service resources and firefighters to fully control and extinguish the fire creating further risks to the community.”

Scott Butler, Executive Director of Recycle Your Electricals, wants people to consider the consequences of binning electricals and batteries given that these destructive and costly fires can be easily avoided. “With more and more products containing lithium-ion batteries, and battery fires on the rise, it’s vital that we stop these fires and reduce the air pollution impact that they have on our local communities and the dangers they present to fire fighters and waste officers.  We are also throwing away some of the most precious materials on the planet which are vital to our economy.  We are calling on everyone to make sure that they never bin and always recycle their electricals and their batteries. Just search recycle your electricals to find your nearest drop off point.

The air pollution impact from waste fires has also a significant impact on local communities.  Professor Frank Kelly from the Faculty of Medicine, School of Public Health at Imperial College London has found that: “Waste fires can cause significant spikes in air pollution. Our analysis of fires at waste sites in the very densely populated areas of Herne Hill and Brentford showed that they contributed to the local pollution burden with the fire in Herne Hill, clearly leading to exceedances in the WHO health based guideline for PM2.5. This meant that thousands of residents in the area were affected, and rightly advised to close windows. Some were unable to leave their homes. The health impacts of waste fires, including respiratory issues, are of great concern, and we would advise residents to avoid opening windows at all costs while local air pollution concentrations are elevated and that everyone should wear a mask if they absolutely must venture outside while the fire is burning. The status of local air quality can be checked on www.londonair.org.uk.”

The financial costs of battery fires are also significant, James Nicholson, Chief Claims Officer at Zurich UK, states: “Lithium battery related fires have become a real concern over recent years, as each year we’re seeing more and more, whether that’s in bin lorries or waste centres. Not only can they cause a considerable amount of damage – Zurich UK has seen some cases cost in the region of up to £20 million – but they can also cause a lot of upheaval while damage is repaired.

One fire in Herne Hill, South London, which took 5 hours to get under control and burned for 4 days, required 15 fire engines and roughly 100 firefighters to attend the scene as well as round-the-clock firefighting from London Fire Brigade. Similarly, Hertfordshire Fire Service reported a recent waste fire, where lithium-ion batteries were suspected to have played a significant contributory role, which required over 24 hours of fire service resources.

Recycle Your Electricals is helping make recycling electricals and batteries easier than ever – so more of these fires can be prevented. Batteries, of all kinds, whether loose or hidden in our electricals – should never be binned, always recycled.  If possible, remove batteries from electricals and recycle the batteries and electricals separately at your local recycling centre, supermarket or other battery recycling point.  If you can’t remove the batteries, then always recycle your electricals at your nearest electrical recycling point. You can find your nearest electrical and battery recycling point via the Recycle Your Electricals Postcode Locator.

Featured Photo by Nareeta Martin on Unsplash.

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